The Social Media/Smart Grid Nexus


When you think of social media, your initial thoughts come to posting a link on Facebook, trying to connect with a potential employer on LinkedIn, or tweeting about the latest Major League Soccer game on Twitter.

The second aspect of social media networks most people think about is leveraging marketing opportunities to sell products and services online.

What you may not think about social media is its potential to enhance smart grid capabilities to improve efficiency, accuracy, and maximize the customer experience.


Social Media by Giulia Forsythe via Flickr. Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved

In simple terms, smart grids utilize Internet-based technology to provide two-way communication between devices and the utility, according to the US Department of Energy. Components of the smart grid include smart meters, sensors which transfer data to the service, and web-based energy management systems.

While the current grid system was excellent in providing energy management for the 20th century, which used fossil fuels, today’s energy system in 2016 is a lot more complicated than of prior regimes.

Blackouts in recent history, changes in technological habits, along with increased extreme weather risks due to climate change have strengthened the need to implement smart grids.

Currently, we are seeing smart grid projects seen all over the world, including projects in Austin Texas, and in Germany, to improve energy costs and emissions. Elements of the smart grid are being implemented in wind, and solar farms, and utility power plants in better managing energy systems.

Smart grid global market value is expected to reach $400 billion US by 2020, according to GreenTech Media. The World Economic Forum called for in 2015 a $7.5 US trillion investment within the next 25 years in improving our global grid system to meet our current energy challenges, while mitigating climate change risks.

Early in the 2000’s author Jeremy Rifkin predicted the implementation of a smart grid. His 2002 book The Hydrogen Economy, he argued that end users would use similar smart technologies and principles which helped propel the World Wide Web in the 1990’s to plug and play their fuel cells into localized Hydrogen Energy Web’s (HEW). Rifkin also notes this would help decentralize the energy system, as consumers would be able to share clean energy with each other.

While his initial prediction did not necessarily come to pass about the hydrogen economy, his ideas have flourished about a World Wide Web of Energy through the Smart Grid and the Internet of Things. He added further context in his 2014 book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society. Rifkin discusses the three broad components of the Internet of Things: A communications Internet, an energy Internet, and a logistics Internet.

Based on Rifkin’s analysis, the communications Internet through social media can play a role in easing the energy Internet through smart grid implementation.

Social media analytics can provide massive amounts of data in tracking where extreme weather events affect power outages.

Meanwhile, many companies are using social media to create a universal smart grid experience for customers.



Smart Grid by IBM Research via Flickr. Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved


Oracale’s Opower, creates social energy software for utilities to enhance a client’s smart grid experience. Opower’s software runs on both computer and mobile apps (tablets and smartphones, which allows a customer to get real-time data on how much energy consume while providing suggestions on how they can cut their use. Utilities who have used Opower’s public service customers have created 11 terra-watt hours in energy savings (TWh), with 3TWh, coming in the past year alone.

Meanwhile, expect further social networking and smart grid integration into the future as dynamics shift from baby boomers towards millennials. A recent study suggested millennials are demanding a mix of more smart technologies, renewables, and social media be implemented by utilities, as they become the biggest consumer demographic.

I would expect the next few years to provide some disruptive, exciting development for utilities, as they look to make Generation Y happy, lower their carbon footprint, and create a plug and play consumer energy experience.

Social media is much more than snapping a photo on Instagram, or uploading a video on YouTube. Mashable said it best in 2011:

As the smart grid continues to reach more American homes, it truly will form a nationwide social network unlike anything ever was seen.

SnapGrid Perhaps?

What do you think of social networking merging with smart grid technologies? Is this a good thing? How can clean tech, renewable energy analysts and social media marketers collaborate here? What challenges do they face?

Let me know. Drop me a line on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+. You can also email me at








An Inconvenient Truth: Ten Years On

Ten years ago, Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, sending Italians into a frenzy. Yet, perhaps just as significant was the release of An Inconvenient Truth.

This documentary featured former US Vice-President Al Gore discussing on a slide show, about the consequences climate change would have on our planet in the future. It was a visual tour de force for the eyes, as Gore hit the point home, slide, after slide, after slide, about what will occur if we do not make necessary changes in order to avoid future damage. An inconvenient Truth won the 2006 Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It also became one of top grossing documentaries of all time, taking in $49.1 million, globally.

So what has happened since An Inconvenient Truth has come out?

A lot of things have happened. I won’t go into every crook and cranny on what’s happened since, but I will discuss some key points.

Weather events are getting more extreme: Ok, as much as I love watching a good extreme wrestling bout, the same can’t be said about extreme weather. There is nothing funny, nor pretty about flash flooding, droughts, and intense heat waves.  In, fact it’s quite scary. Consider since 2006, six years have been the hottest globally on record, (2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015). There is a 99% chance 2016 will be even warmer (and it’s not even June yet). Climate analysts suggest these types of events will only increase in warming world, as we head into a “New Normal” of expecting the unexpected in weather. If that won’t get you, perhaps increased insurance rates in the pocket-book will from these situations.

Increased investments in renewables and cleantech investment: While doom and gloom abounds about climate change, one positive has occurred, which is more investments into renewable energy and clean technology. Renewable energy and clean technology has seen revival, thanks to reducing carbon emissions, but also thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which poured $31 billion US into new American clean energy projects. Since then, global renewable energy investment reached a record in 2015 with $329 billion US, with emerging market countries leading the way. Electric vehicles are also finding their way, as they are becoming more affordable, as Tesla Motors has taken already 373,000 pre orders for its affordable ($35,000 per car) model 3 vehicle, and is considered a “game changing” event within the automobile industry due to the amount of rapid sales for an electric vehicle.

Ten years on. An Inconvenient Truth, if anything got more people talking about climate change and began a serious conversation in mainstream society. It’s been used in universities, and schools about what needs to occur about taking climate action. Sure it has its detractors.  Yet at the end of the day, it’s a discussion that needed to be out in the open. Look, I love talking about money (I prepare income taxes, and took economics), but we can’t continue to beat up our planet Earth day in and day out in the sake of maximizing return. There is no economy with no planet. Today we have to technology to move forward, with wind, solar, biofuels, battery storage, and electric vehicles.  The Internet of Things will help to ramp up renewable energy through smart grids, as smart cities will help to ensure improved energy efficiencies in major urban centres.

We owe it to ourselves. If not to save our Earth, but in the very least to upgrade our outdated 20th century infrastructure into the 21st century, and save ourselves future costs from extreme weather events.

So watch An Inconvenient Truth again. Discuss what has changed since. Debate with your friends and neighbors. Be inspired by it. But in the very least come out of it with something new, and take action. Because there is No Planet B.


Three Things Environmentalists Should Jump For Joy On Earth Day


Tomorrow is Earth Day. We will gather to celebrate the Mother Earth in all her glory.

We will also hear a lot of doom and gloom about the planet we live on. Sure, there is a lot of gloomy stories to worry about. Carbon emissions last year went above 400 parts per million (ppm) and went to 402 ppm recently. We have seen record storms and droughts in recent times that should raise concern among climate policy makers.

Despite some of the end of the world mentality by many environmentalists, here are three things to get really excited about as you celebrate Earth Day:

1. Cost of Solar Falls Like A Ton of Bricks:


Image Credit: China Solar Panels via WikiCommons

It was not long ago, the cost of solar power was really expensive. Solar costs in 1950 were $300 per watt and $27.00/watt in 1980. In 2013, solar plummeted to $0.74/watt. That is an astonishing figure. Solar is price competitive to coal in some places. What is occurring with solar energy, and other renewables occurred with the late 1990’s information technology boom, which created the framework for Web. 2.0. Governments, and utilities will have to kick out their old 20th century style energy policies out the door, thanks to the open sourced energy model solar offers.

2. SolarCity and Tesla Motors Are Rolling:


Image Credit: Tesla Motors Model S via WikiCommons

Tesla Motors and SolarCity in the past few years have really taken off in the Nasdaq stock exchange and are hot talking points.

At the end of Monday, Tesla Motors stock was worth $204.38 USD a share, an increase of more than $100.00 a year ago. Meanwhile, SolarCity’s share price hit $57.13. While not as high as earlier this year, it’s almost five times more than the initial IPO offering of $11.79/share on its first day of trading in December, 2012.

In March, the Globe & Mail put SolarCity’s bright future into context:

To put this in perspective, two-thirds of all solar energy systems in the U.S. were installed in the last two-and-a-half years. I don’t think it’s just tree huggers who are installing these systems, either. These are financial decisions. And for people who don’t have $20,000 or more to invest up front in a solar energy system on their roof, solar leasing is a popular solution.

Within the sector, Solar City is a clear leader by market share in the U.S. It specializes in putting solar energy systems on homeowners’ roofs. Solar City, and other companies like them, pay for the entire installation and recoup their money by signing the customer to a long-term energy-purchase agreement. Everybody wins because Solar City generates a healthy profit over the life of the solar-power system, while the customer pays less for power compared to their feed from the traditional grid. Customers can still use grid power, but most of their electricity comes from their roof, and if the grid goes down, they are still generating their own power.

Take SolarCity’s monster share of the US solar market, along with Tesla’s ambitious plan on building a “gigafactory” for its electric cars, and you see how the long-term motor vehicle and energy market trends may shape out this century.

3. Spectator Sports Are Becoming More Sustainable:


Image Credit: Spark Renault Formula E Car via WikiCommons

One of the biggest complaints about spectator sports (Auto Racing, NFL) is the big footprint it leaves. Major sports leagues are now taking up the sustainability charge.

Averaging about a 4 million carbon footprint annually, NASCAR is often on the “Hit List” of many environmentalists. Ironically, they have also brought in some green changes, including an E15 ethanol blend, and working with ACORE on energy efficiency initiatives.

Meanwhile, Formula E, the first ever electric vehicle racing circuit will kick off this September. Announced in 2012, its hoped the new racing venture will reduce carbon emissions, create jobs and advance the electric vehicle industry.

In the NFL, many teams have embraced renewable energy strategies to save costs and the environment. These include the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins.

Society Better Equipped to Fight Climate Change Now

As you sit back on Earth Day, sure be mad about a lot of things. But at the same time lets start being more positive on the changes that are taking place. Ask someone thirty to forty years ago, if wind, solar energy, or electric vehicles would become apart of mainstream society? You would be laughed right out of the building.

Sure nothing is perfect. However, but as you are seeing now with declining solar costs, cleantech stocks becoming hot talking points on Wall Street, and less carbon footprint from spectator sports show society is moving in the right direction. If you ask me, We are more equipped now to take on climate change, then we were even twenty five years ago. That my friends is progress.

Happy Earth Day.





Book Review: Rooftop Revolution By Danny Kennedy

photo (2)

Rooftop Revolution Book Cover

Released last fall before the US presidential elections, Rooftop Revolution, written by Sungevity CEO and former Greenpeace activist Danny Kennedy is a clear concise book on the potential solar energy has in advancing a sustainable economy that should please environmental activists and sustainability entrepreneurs alike.

Kennedy at the start explores the false pretensions the fossil fuel industry comes up with against solar (happily known as King CONG-Coal, Oil, Nuclear, Gas). In the prologue, Kennedy goes into detail on why fossil fuels are inefficient (namely blasting off mountain tops for coal), while causing extensive environmental damage. He also cites the very dangerous potential of oil rigs causing serious environmental damage, thanks to incidents like the BP oil spill in spring, 2010. While nuclear energy may have no carbon emissions, the problems with storage, waste, and the accident in Fukushima and Chernobyl, Kennedy suggests nuclear energy is a definite no go for a clean energy option.

Meanwhile, the author notes, 20 days of sunshine has the same amount of energy potential, than all of the earth’s natural gas, oil, and coal supplies. That is something that perhaps all countries should take heed of if they are looking to provide energy in an ever-increasing energy hungry appetite.

And it’s not just solar energy that is good for the environment but also good for the economy, also. Similar to the information technology revolution, The Rooftop Revolution, Kennedy believes solar can do the same to boost an economy that lost jobs from CONG industries. He points despite the massive profits CONG industries have made, they employ less than twice as many bodies in clean energy industries. Given the number of solar jobs increased by 13.2% in 2012, it’s no wonder why we are seeing such bullishness in the former Greenpeace activists hope for this emerging industry.

Kennedy believes ten things will occur to help the “Solar Ascent,” including:

  1. Lower prices
  2. Job opportunities
  3. The speed in which solar energy is growing
  4. Scalability
  5. Increased access (important for emerging markets to leapfrog CONG energy)
  6. Value
  7. Climate change concerns
  8. Popularity
  9. National Defense
  10. Evolution.

It’s these ten things plus his knack for storytelling, maturing from an activist to a premier clean-tech entrepreneur (Kennedy did his fair share of civil disobedience against fossil fuel organizations in his younger days) that makes you want to read this book. His belief, that while protest can work, being an entrepreneur and changing the world through private enterprise provides some very key lessons both environmental activists and business students should take heart.

There are some minor flaws with the book. They include: looking at the idea of how the natural gas boom will affect solar prices in the short-term. There is also Kennedy’s suggestions of China’s low cost solar manufacturing could irk some union people (despite helping to decrease costs of photovoltaic panels) detract some of the good points from the book.

Nonetheless, environmental activists, business people, cleantech geeks, and those who want to know how solar energy works should get this for their bookshelf.

Mobile Phones and Environmental Sustainability

Infograph Courtesy of the World Bank

Infograph Courtesy of the World Bank

Here is something interesting that I had pulled off of Google tonight. It was courtesy of the World Bank, an infograph dealing with the state of mobile phones around the world. I do not know how recent this came out. However, I thought it would be interesting to share and the potential for sustainable development. There were some pretty interesting statistics I found:

For starters, the percentage of where someone can find a cellular phone signal across the globe has increased from 61% in 2003, to 90% in 2010. I would expect that’s even more now in 2013. Heck, developing world has more cell phones than the developed world.

Also 6 billion people have access to mobile phones. Heck even 1 billion people in China have mobile subscriptions. That is just phenomenal!!

To even add further context of this, cellular phone technology, according to the world bank infograph has helped to increased the income for farmers in developing countries, with the highest penetration in Uganda. Citizens also believe in cell phones have helped to improve education in their countries, according to a Time Magazine poll last fall.

Can the advancement of cellular phone technology help to boost sustainable development? I think there is lots of potential, in developing nations to help leapfrog over old and dirtier technologies. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute had this to say about cellular phones and environmental sustainability:

Dematerialization of the economy is facilitated by new technologies that are less material-dependent. Cellular phones, which rely on widely dispersed towers or on satellites for signal transmission, account for most of the growth in telephone use in developing countries. These nations will not need to invest in millions of miles of copper wires, as the industrial countries did. As recently as 1990, cellular phones were rare. But in 1996, cellular phone sales of 51 million overtook the 47 million new phones linked by wire. By 1999, cellular phone sales at 172 million nearly tripled the 63 million sales of fixed-line phones. There were 491 million cell phones in use by then, compared with 907 million traditional ones. By 2005, the number of cellular phones in use will probably exceed the number of telephones linked by wire.61

The new technology has arrived on the scene just in time for developing countries, such as China and India, which have few of the traditional linked telephones. Within just a few years, China has overtaken Japan in the number of cellular phone subscribers, trailing only the United States. We can now look forward to a world population linked by a phone network that does not require millions of tons of copper wire.

Think about the potential this can have when linking smart grids with wind and solar energy in countries like India and China, who have tons of potential. Again, I have argued many times of the nexus of information technology and renewable energy will be key to put the world on course for prosperous green growth. The greatest paradox is despite the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the tools are there now for a true environmental sustainability economy, thanks to mobile phones and tablets.

Thoughts? don’t be afraid to drop me a line in the comments section, Twitter, Facebook, Google + or email at

Why Capitalism Is the Best Way to Save Our Planet

Dumas Texas Wind farm via Wikipedia

Debate often amongst environmentalists whether capitalism and moderate environmentalism is the best way to save our planet.

Afterall, after the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, debate has brought climate change into the focus of the public eye. It’s aftermath is expected to top US$50 billion dollars.

But should environmentalists take a more direct action path, tearing down a capitalist system whose flaws have done severe damage on the ecosystem? Or should environmentalists take a more modest route in 2012, heading into 2013? A route of innovation, enterprise to solve some of our problems?

Anti-capitalists argue limiting economic growth, riding bicycles, walking and planting urban gardens. Proponents like Naomi Klein, and Green Illusions author Ozzie Zehner argue for such radical ideas of smashing the capitalist system.

Definitely, they have a case for this. Externalities of treating the Earth’s eco-system like a sewer helped to push carbon emissions to its highest level ever in 2011 at 390.9 parts per million. With shrinking natural resources its understandable to have an anti-capitalist fit.

However, with a population of approaching nine billion people in 2050. Add the upward trend of the emerging market middle class, along with close to one-quarter of the global population with no electricity makes it hard to argue for anti-capitalist ideas.

Afterall, capitalism has helped to create prosperity to a globalized world. Emerging market countries continue to move out of the poverty trap. The Internet and the World Wide Web, through entrepreneurship has helped create innovative business opportunities unheard of thirty years ago. Mobile phones are leapfrogging older, and outdated telecommunications technologies in poorer countries to lift those out of poverty.

Capitalism can solve the environmental problem. We are seeing some really neat sustainability ideas going on across the globe thanks to green capitalism:

Sungevity, a US solar company, thanks to fusing information technology, solar energy, along with ground breaking financing is making it for more lower to middle class citizens in the US afford clean, renewable energy.

Nissan, with the Nissan Leaf is an electric hybrid car that runs on zero emissions, and was ranked the most fuel-efficient car in its class in 2012.

General Electric in September of 2012 installed it’s 300th wind turbine in Brazil, helping to shore up it’s installed wind capacity of 1,500 mega-watts.

These are just some of the global examples seen in renewable energy and clean technology as it becomes a more popular choice.

In 2011, global investments in renewable energy were $257 billion, an increase from 2010 of $211 billion. Meanwhile, Renewable energy investment in 2010 surpassed fossil fuels for the first time.

Green capitalism is the way to go. An anti-capitalism approach will not work. From Richard Branson and Al Gore all agree this is the best system. Why go back to a feudal style?

As Bill Clinton said “It’s the economy, stupid.”

How Far Would Renewable Energy Be Without On-line Media?

EarthTechling and Cleantechnica are two of the more popular news related websites pertaining to alternative energy & clean technology. Photo Sources: EarthTechling (; Cleantechnica (

What role has on-line media played with the growth of the renewable energy sector in the past ten to twenty years? That is a question that really has not been up for discussion within the renewable energy community.

However, it does merit some discussion. Afterall, commentators are saying that we are in the midst of quite a change in mass communications. No longer in the days of the World Wide Web do we get our information from just ten television channels and local radio stations. Rather there is the five hundred channel universe, web 2.0, smart phones, and tablets are bombarding our senses with information.

Despite all those concerns of information overload, the Internet is at least providing an outlet for other voices that normally would get shut out.

For newer industries like renewable industry that need to grow all important market share to increase their products, it provides a means of an efficient communication strategy that would have been more difficult in a ten channel universe or newspaper era.

I won’t go into too much into detail, but you can thank a lot of the renewable energy revolution’s backbone from the information technology revolution that happened in the mid to late 1990’s to early 2000’s.

However, I think it was the power of Web 2.0, when it really started to take off in around early to mid 2000’s we saw a new breed of on-line media take off. Blogs, thanks to Blogger, WordPress, along with podcasts have allowed the average citizen to get involved in media. That has been important in the spread of the discussion of renewable energy’s role within society.

Case in point, in the early 2000’s, as the Internet and the World Wide Web were in their infancy, there were very few websites you could find decent commentary or news related to clean technology. After all, both were fairly young infant industries.

Yet, as we moved further along into the first decade of the 21st century, good quality on-line media was being devoted to the subject. From podcast radio shows, to documentaries, and on-line publications, the ante of the quality of news within the renewable energy industry has increased, as the industry as grown.

Websites, including EarthTechling, Cleantechnica, and Renewable Energy World provide superb content on a daily basis for those who want to know how alternative energy affects the nexus of economics, markets, politics, globalization and environmental issues on a daily basis. I consider these the MSNBC’s CNN‘s and CNBC‘s of the renewable energy world. You can thank the Internet for that.

Heck, even Bloomberg’s website a mainstream business source for news, added a sustainability part of their site thanks to the increasing appetite for sustainable development issues amongst business people. Bloomberg types are not your stereotypical granola munching hippie types, either, folks.

In the future, when we look back at media, and energy, in the early 21st century, there is a good chance that likely, we will say, that without on-line media’s presence of blogs, on-line video and podcasts, who knows how much this sector would have grown.

Perhaps maybe this paragraph from a recent Corporate Knights article sums it up best of where the interlinking between alternative energy and the World Wide Web are headed:

“Thanks to the web, citizens in every location of the globe are connecting and contributing, strand by strand, to what is in essence a mesh of surveillance around the planet, constantly taking the pulse of nature and making note of the pressures we place on it. “It’s really the web and Internet infrastructure that’s allowing the scaling up of all of this,” said Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer at Cisco Canada. Cisco and NASA are working together on a non-profit initiative, called the Planetary Skin Institute, that’s aiming to make sense of – and help decision-makers act on – this massive (and growing) wave of data.

And here’s the thing: you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As Berners-Lee likes to say, “Most of the history of the web is still ahead of us.” “